Professor Tashman

Ellipsis

The ellipsis

An ellipsis (plural is ellipses) mark is three dots. Use an ellipsis to shorten a quote without changing the quote’s basic meaning.

The full quote:

Horyn wrote that “Fashion Week was in high gear last night. The runways glittered with high-heeled satin ballet slippers, gray wool dresses with gently billowing sleeves, vampish fur collars, zigzag print skirts dripping with gold chains, wooly-mammoth boots, sleek white jumpers chopped to about seven inches above the knee, tiny frills of collar lace, flashy argyle socks and most memorably with slim skirts and low-rise boyish trousers.”

The same quote with an ellipsis:

Horyn wrote that “Fashion Week was in high gear last night. The runways glittered…most memorably with slim skirts and low-rise boyish trousers.”

If you delete one or more sentences, put a period before the ellipsis, using four dots instead of three:

The full quote:

Testifying in front of the commission, the father was tearful and angry. “After my son was hooked, his drug addiction followed a long inevitable path to self-destruction and death. At first he shot up once a week. Then he was shooting up four or five times per week. He began skipping school. Every day I found syringes and spoons and bloody alcohol pads around the house, along with the occasional packet of white powder. He used for eleven tough years before he died.”

The quote with an ellipsis:

Testifying in front of the commission, the father was tearful and angry. “After my son was hooked, his drug addiction followed a long inevitable path to self-destruction and death….He used for eleven tough years before he died.”

The details are gone; the essential meaning remains.

Make sure that an ellipsis doesn’t change a writer’s original opinion, as it does in this famous George Bush quote:

George Bush’s original quote from a May 5, 2003 speech in Arkansas:

Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they’re not a problem anymore.

Nine days later, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd used an ellipsis to change Bush’s meaning:

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. “Al Qaeda is on the run,” President Bush said last week. “That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated… They’re not a problem anymore.”

The president was clearly referring to half of Al Qaeda’s top operatives—not all of Al Qaeda—when he said “They’re not a problem anymore.”

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